Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Stephen Siegel sees diamonds in the rough

Suite solution: Stephen Siegel’s Downtown investments are focused a few blocks east of the Zappos boom.
Photo: Joe Schoenmann

Stand at the corner of 13th and Fremont streets for a few hours and you begin to understand the weight of humanity being pushed into this area by redevelopment.

This older, poorer section of downtown has long been full of the impoverished and destitute. That’s not to say those people are bad. Many good people live here, attests Ken Hardy, security chief for Siegel Suites since October (and a retired Las Vegas Metro homicide detective). Poverty, however, sometimes relegates the “good” to live around the “bad” — drug dealers, prostitutes, thieves and whatnot. The thing is, the mass of miscreants in the area has grown. There are little reminders all the time. Like this:

A few weeks ago, a woman walks up to Hardy and asks to use his cellphone. He says he doesn’t have one, but the main office a half-block away has a phone she can use.

“You don’t have one?” she says, suspiciously. She asks different ways. He gives directions to the office. She ambles off in the opposite direction, and when she’s out of earshot, Hardy tells me he’s been warned never to lend a cellphone to anyone down here.

“They’ll take it and run,” he says, chuckling.

Just by standing there, Hardy is a testament to the change that is coming. A tiny woman approaches him suddenly, asking if he’s the guy that just bought all these buildings.

He isn’t, but his boss, Stephen Siegel, whose Siegel Group owns close to 50 properties throughout Las Vegas, is. For the ballpark figure of about $4 million, Siegel recently closed deals for apartment buildings at 1300, 1401 and 1500 Fremont.

Siegel expects it will take about another $1 million to fix the myriad air conditioning, heating, electrical, structural and other problems found in the 247 units he now owns.

“We had 80 orders within the first hour that we got in here ... just so many problems,” he says.

Originally built by Budget Suites owner Robert Bigelow, the apartments were sold during the Vegas boom for about $10 million. Siegel said his company worked on the $4 million deal for about a year.

“The stuff that people don’t want, I want,” Siegel says. “I see these as little jewels. They’ve just been mismanaged.”

When finished, he sees rents increasing from about $129-$139 to $159-$179 per week. (Siegel says he offers weekly rates because that’s how many people can afford to pay.) Rent will include cable, utilities, new furniture, new fixtures, carpeting and other amenities.

About six blocks east of the epicenter of Fremont Street redevelopment, Siegel sees this purchase as integral to the downtown rebirth spearheaded by Zappos and Downtown Project partners. Some renters have already moved out, not wanting to stay in a place where the new management will be watching closely.

“The people who pay $129 and don’t care how bad it gets, we don’t want those people, because they’re the ones doing all kinds of crime. ... You will never get the good people if the bad people are still living here, because they scare the good people away,” he says. “So you need someone to come and cap off this end and clean it up. If not, you’re going to have these people hovering, and it’s never going to be a safe place.”

Of course, the purchase of three properties isn’t going to push crime out of the neighborhood completely, no matter how many security guards patrol Siegel’s properties. There are still many buildings nearby in worse shape.

Within sight of 1300 Fremont is a weekly rental whose sign looks like it was painted by grade schoolers. One morning years ago, I passed it on the way to work and caught a glimpse of a little girl crying as a man with balled fists stood over a woman crumpled on the ground, holding her bleeding face.

“I think between here and the Beat (at 6th and Fremont), it’s going to take some time,” Siegel acknowledges. “But you’ll have people jump on the bandwagon. It always starts with a few, some starters, then everybody follows.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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